Taking Yoga off the Mat

Dear Yogini: I feel great when I’m in class, but I can’t seem to take my yoga with me out to my life. How do I make that shift? ~~ A Friend

Dear Friend: In the second chapter of the yoga sutras Patanjali tells us that the tools of yogic awareness are: discipline, self study and devotion. Our commitment to these tools may be easy when we step onto our yoga mat. We arrive on the mat for a purpose. We set aside our concerns and our worries. We move through asana practice. We breathe. We have discipline, self study and devotion together in a tidy package during yoga class.

Life is messier. Our worries, concerns and challenges have to be dealt with. My child has a fever, it snows on the new plants, an employee doesn’t show up for work and I get cutoff in traffic. The pressure builds and I lose my calm abiding center. I swear and yell and don’t feel like a Yogini at all. I judge myself for my actions.

Maybe in this moment I have no discipline and no devotion to draw upon, but I can begin to practice self study. I can invite my witness, my observing self, into the moment rather than my self critic and judge. I see that I am stressed. There is too much going on right now. That simple observation will let off some of the pressure. I remember to breath. I focus on my exhalation, letting go of all the air in my lungs and then take a long slow full breath of fresh air.

That full breath is a natural place for devotion to arise. I say a short prayer: ‘help’ or ‘thanks’ will do. I continue to breath. When I get out of the car I take a moment to stretch or walk, I practice some form of simple asana, appropriate to the place. No one else needs to know what I am doing. As I become aware of what my needs are in the moment then discipline can arise and I can practice yoga in the moment. My calm abiding center begins to return.

I create a short portable yoga practices: breathe, a simple movement, a prayer. I reflect on what is happening that pushes me to the edge and then I see if I can find balance even there. I have been practicing challenging balance poses in class, but the balance we need to find in life can be much more difficult.

Sometimes I fail magnificently. I cry or laugh or scream. Then I brush off the emotional crumbs, make a apology, and try again. Yoga is a practice after all. We will never perfect Yoga. We just keep practicing.